While it’s great to have so many prototyping solutions available, there’s no silver bullet. The “best” tools to use depend entirely on your organisational structure and the immediate purpose for the prototype. Not only that, but this purpose will change throughout the product lifecycle.
While there are many prototyping tools on the market, most have their own unique advantage that can make them useful during some phase of the product lifecycle. It’s important to first consider your business objectives and practices before selecting the right tools to use. Picking technologies first can severely handicap your prototyping process, short-circuiting your ability to optimise and find an adaptable solution.
Look into how digital prototyping is helping the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers today need to come to terms with a raft of complex challenges. Being able to deliver strategically differentiated products is complicated in itself, but even more so when customers are demanding greater customisation and faster speed to market at ever-lower costs.
One area in which manufacturers are finding ways to meet this challenge is product design, and many are learning that innovation in complex product design techniques can deliver significant benefits in product quality, cost, speed and customer satisfaction.
Prototype evaluation should include prediction and simulation of manufacturing processes and production planning both during the conceptual design when design data are incomplete and during the later stages when the design has matured after several design iterations. The risks of transition to full production can be reduced by integrating virtual design and testing with manufacturing simulation.
Manufacturability is a condition that must be satisfied before a design can be considered valid. Lack of any prototyping of the manufacturing stage heightens the risks of having to carry out design changes shortly after commissioning expensive dies, tools and other production equipment.
Process planning involves selection of the type and sequence of the manufacturing operations that are needed to create a component efficiently. Once a design is expressed as a 2D or 3D engineering drawing, production process planning is needed to identify the optimum configuration of manufacturing processes using the most appropriate materials and running at the lowest possible cost.
Computer-based workflow created where conceptual design, engineering, manufacturing, and procurement teams are connected by a single digital model. This simulates the complete product, and gives engineers the ability to design, visualise, and simulate their products digitally.
The availability and affordability of advanced computer technology has paved the way for increasing utilisation of prototypes that are digital and created in computer-based environments, i.e. they are virtual as opposed to being physical.
The rapid increase in both computing power of computational methods and models of physical phenomena and the growing ability to transport results between various models are improving the scope of applications, robustness, accuracy, realism and cost effectiveness of virtual prototyping technology at an incredibly fast pace Virtual prototyping. consists of many capabilities, the best known of which is the creation and viewing of 3D solid models with various colours and surface textures.
The purposes for which prototypes are used are universal, irrespective of whether the prototype is a physical or virtual one. In general, prototypes are required for three main purposes: communication, design development, and design testing and verification
The system, subsystem or product at a given level of the design process and their functions must be defined, and the scope of the tests must be determined e.g. short-term normal or extreme long-term conditions. Using computer simulation, all or parts of the possible scenarios can be simulated in order to study the behaviour of the selected functions, system or subsystems involved.
Accuracy of prototyping depends on faithful simulation of all the factors representing the product and its intended operating environment. Such factors include product specifed geometry, functions and performance and the intended fabrication technology, as well as the human users and their interaction with the product.
A high level of detail must be incorporated in a digital model to achieve accurate virtual prototypes. The accuracy of all the analytical processes and models need to be assessed to measure the correlation between predicted results and the corresponding physical equivalents.
Prototypes are ideal for testing an idea, improving on the look and feel of a design and for getting a sense of how the market is going to respond. After all, most successful campaigns have started off with prototypes that brought an enthusiastic response which helped fund more development work.
But it’s at this point, when a project moves from prototype to new product introduction, that many great ideas falter. Problems may arise because the techniques used to make a prototype are different than those for mass production. Product developers need to be aware of these differences and be prepared to make engineering, forecasting and design changes accordingly.
1. Design Plans: Get Started with Prototyping
Prototyping is an integral part of Design Plans and User Experience design in general because it allows us to test our ideas quickly and improve on them in an equally timely fashion.
Why is prototyping so important in the design process? Moreover, how does it help you create design solutions? Before we start making prototypes to test our assumptions, let’s get a closer understanding behind the what, how and why of prototyping.
Imagine this situation: It’s an exciting new project, something your team had spent lots of time brainstorming and planning, then building and crafting to perfection. You did all you could to ensure it was just right, with all the necessary features. You tried to ensure that you gave design more focus and that your message was crafted well.
The website attracted attention and brought in many interested visitors looking for the products you'd collected on the site, but somehow the product and service providers just weren't interested in testing it out. They seemed comfortable just to keep doing business as usual.. It made no sense to you, but there you were later, having sweated and spent valuable time, money, and resources and even attracting visitors, but no customers.
2. What went wrong?
It's a story repeated time and time again—ideas being executed by people totally focused on for making a dent in the market, making big changes or just completely reinventing the wheel, only to realise right at the end of their journey that they've been wasting their time or focusing on the wrong thing.
This is where prototyping comes in by providing a set of tools and approaches for properly testing and exploring ideas before too many resources get used. Many developers created mockups of real-world objects with the simplest of materials we could get our hands on. There is not much difference between these types of prototypes and the early rough prototypes we may develop at the earlier phases of testing out ideas.
3. What is a Prototype?
A prototype is a simple experimental model of a proposed solution used to test or validate ideas, design assumptions and other aspects of its conceptualisation quickly and cheaply, so designers involved can make appropriate refinements or possible changes in direction.
Prototypes can take many forms, and just about the only thing in common the various forms have is that they are all tangible forms of your ideas. They don’t have to be primitive versions of an end product, either—far from it. Simple sketches or storyboards used to illustrate a proposed experiential solution, rough paper prototypes of digital interfaces, and even role-playing to act out a service offering an idea are examples of prototypes. In fact, prototypes do not need to be full products: you can prototype a part of a solution to test that specific part of your solution.
Prototypes can be quick and rough — useful for early-stage testing and learning — and can also be fully formed and detailed — usually for testing or pilot trials near the end of the project.
Prototyping is about bringing conceptual or theoretical ideas to life and exploring their real-world impact before finally executing them. All too often, design teams arrive at ideas without enough research or validation and expedite them to final execution before there is any certainty about their viability or possible effect on the target group.
4. Why We Need to Prototype
Research conducted during the early stages of your Design project does not tell you everything you need to know in order to create the optimal solution. Regardless of whether you have researched thoroughly and gathered a large body of information, or whether your development sessions have resulted in what many perceive as a world-changing solution, testing is still crucial for success.
Design teams can easily become fixated on the research artifacts they have gathered during the earlier phases of exploration, creating a bias towards their ideas. By prototyping and then testing those prototypes, you can reveal assumptions and biases you have towards your ideas, and uncover insights about your users that you can use to improve your solutions or create new ones.
You can use prototyping as a form of research even before other phases in design allowing you to explore problem areas in interfaces, products or services, and spot areas for improvement or innovation.
5. Prototype to Define, Ideate, and Test
We can — and should — use prototyping as part of various stages of Design. You can use prototyping as an ideation method, as it allows you, as well as users, to explore alternative solutions. This is possible because prototypes are physical representations of your solutions, so prototyping allows you to explore by doing. Adopting a ‘explore by doing’ strategy is extremely helpful in letting you derive more value from researching, defining, ideating, and testing.
You can use prototypes to explore problems, ideas, and opportunities within a specific area of focus and test out the impact of incremental or radical changes. Use prototypes in order to better understand the dynamics of a problem, product, or system by physically engaging with them and picking apart what makes them work or fail.
Use prototyping to engage with end users or stakeholders, in ways that reveal deeper insight and more valuable experiences, to inform design decisions going forward. Use prototypes to sell new ideas, motivate buy-in from internal or external stakeholders, or inspire markets toward radical new ways of thinking and doing.
6. How Prototyping Works
One of the essential strategies for Design Bootcamp Toolkit is having a bias towards action: too much analysis leaves you unable to take hold because you will investigate each assumption through active testing, instead of just thinking it through. By using controlled experiments, you can either prove or disprove your assumptions in their real context and thus further refine — or even abandon — your initial idea.
One of the most important aspects of Design is exploring unknown possibilities and uncovering unknown insights. This is the reason the discipline places emphasis on learning and on activities that increase the learning potential of the team. You can boost action-orientated learning by experimenting and exploring the proposed solutions in order to understand what problems may exist with the assumptions behind those solutions. As such, your team can iterate rapidly, modifying your test models and moving you closer and closer to the goal. .
When you prototype, you bring your ideas onto a tangible plane, which will enable you and your team to see and discuss the pros and cons, to learn from users’ feedback, and to create original ideas. So, stop thinking, and start doing now.
7. When to prototype a digital product
The trend toward product prototyping is fast becoming best practice for teams exploring and vetting new concepts. The team could be a startup with a potentially disruptive business model or an established enterprise investigating innovation opportunities or exploring a redesign, but we believe there are also several other important use cases for rapid prototyping in the context of digital product design.
Despite the differences in producing these prototypes, the spirit remains the same: attempt to design a simple and focused feature set that you can use to demonstrate and test against.
In our experience, we’ve seen evidence supporting the value of rapid prototyping time and again and have found that there are a handful of common use cases where it’s most useful.
8. Validating a concept
Probably the most well understood and agreed upon case for prototyping, validating, or de-risking a concept around a new product or feature is as a tried-and-true method for getting feedback from users and team members before embarking on a longer development cycle. Using simple tools, a product team can prototype and test an idea in a matter of days and iterate as needed. In some cases, learning that a product or feature is unwanted, isn’t useful or intuitive, or lacks a real market is just as valuable as receiving positive feedback. The time saved in not pursuing an invalid concept is valuable and opens opportunity to focus elsewhere.
9. Reaching a shared understanding
With a growing emphasis on designers and developers collaborating more closely and earlier in the process, product prototyping can provide a great deal of clarity and shared understanding throughout a team. In the case of code-based prototypes, designers and developers literally have to work together to produce this initial artifact, so speaking the same language from the start is critical, and debates around an approach or constraint happen in real time. The team is on the same page from the outset, and the process can start to become streamlined. With design-led prototypes, developers can review and vet a concept quickly, pointing out any issues that would prohibit a specific approach or treatment. In our experience, even the most technical engineers are still visual and benefit from seeing and walking through a product from a user’s perspective.
10. Before fully redesigning a product
You’ve probably noticed that some of your favorite web applications occasionally change how they look and work with regard to navigation or interaction patterns. How did these companies validate such decisions before developing and releasing these updates? One method is to constantly collect user feedback over time, recording and weighing the issues that are the most desirable and feasible to redesign or add to a product. Some companies do this subtly over time without ever presenting a totally different interface to their users. Others fully redesign, while another approach is splitting off into a new version of a product and allowing users to try it without forcing them to abandon their existing solution.
In any of these cases, prototyping can help evolve your approach and give your team confidence that the new direction is actually a step forward.
The biggest questions arise around how functionally or conceptually similar a new feature is to an existing one, whether any features can be merged or removed, and the related implications to a product’s navigation or interaction model. Prototyping and testing approaches that attempt to answer these questions can lead to productive discourse within the product team as well as answers from usability testing.
Regardless of the use case, prototyping has an important function in product design and can increase the speed of learning and iterating while enabling everyone involved to share a common vision. The approach and fidelity of the design are less important than answering important questions with something visual that people can react to before taking the next step forward from there.